A U.S. Department of State employee is facing charges for allegedly lying to U.S. investigators regarding her contacts over several years with Chinese intelligence agents. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., allegedly maintained “extensive” contacts with Chinese agents without proper disclose and lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Her contacts were uncovered as part of an FBI counterintelligence probe.
According to a release from the Department of Justice citing Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord, Claiborne “used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit.” At the time of her arrest earlier this week, Claiborne was an office management specialist at the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts at the State Department.
Chinese intelligence agents approached her with “gifts and benefits,” including cash, an iPhone, a computer, and “gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend.” Claiborne also noted in a journal that should make $20,000 “in one year” working with the Chinese agents.
According to the Department of Justice, the spies allegedly “tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.” It’s unclear what additional information Claiborne may have been requested to provide to the Chinese agents.
The case highlights active Chinese efforts to recruit human intelligence assets with U.S. security clearances within the federal government. It’s unclear when exactly Claiborne may have been recruited or approached by Chinese intelligence, but the Department of Justice includes her history with the State Department, which included stints at the U.S. embassy in Beijing and consulate in Shanghai.
Ongoing Chinese espionage attempts against the United States are well known, with the FBI having even charged one of its own employees last year with passing sensitive information along to the Chinese government. In that case, unlike Claiborne’s, the individual facing charges was Chinese-born and a naturalized U.S. citizen. Chinese human intelligence efforts have tended to focus on naturalized citizens. A Taiwan-born U.S. naval flight officer was investigated last year as well for passing what may have been sensitive signals intelligence information to China.
Cases like Claiborne’s may become more common in the future, as China processes and fully exploits the valuable information that it likely gained as a result of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, which was announced in 2015. That breach exposed the data of 18 million current and former U.S. federal government employees and included sensitive Standard Forms (SF) 86 questionnaires, which include information that could enable blackmail facilitating Chinese human intelligence asset recruitment in the United States.
Claiborne will face a preliminary hearing on April 18.